WE’VE reached the business end of another football season and promotion-chasing Colchester United are bracing themselves for what they hope will be an exciting finale to the League Two campaign. The U’s are ninth in the table and three points adrift of the play-offs. Will they see the job through and make a swift return to League One? Gazette U’s reporter Jonathan Waldron assesses their chances by examining four key factors and taking a look at their last nine fixtures.
1 History on U’s side?
COLCHESTER United head to Crewe Alexandra on Saturday buoyed by their midweek home win over Mansfield Town and looking for more vital points in their bid to return to League One at the first time of asking.
The victory over the Stags took the U’s to 54 points, 11 points off the top three.
But if they are to secure their first promotion in more than a decade, it looks likely that realistically, John McGreal’s side will have to do so via the play-offs.
Over the past ten years, the highest number of points needed to finish in seventh-place in the four tier of English football has been 78, secured by Wycombe Wanderers in the 2007-08 season.
The fewest for a seventh-place finish in that time is 68 points, which was achieved by Torquay United in the 2010-11 campaign.
There has been a general trend in the Football League of the teams sneaking into the play-off positions at the death going on to win promotion and that has certainly been the case in League Two, over recent years.
In the last seven years, the team that has finished in seventh place has gone on to win promotion via the play-offs on four separate occasions.
2 Home form pivotal OF Colchester United’s remaining nine games, five will be at the Weston Homes Community Stadium.
That bodes well for the U’s, whose home form this season has been up there with the best in the division.
Crucially, their next four home games are against teams who are currently above them in the table.
But John McGreal’s side have shown against the likes of Carlisle United, Morecambe and latterly Mansfield that they are capable of beating fellow promotion-chasing sides this season.
And earlier in the season they pushed the leading two teams in the table – Doncaster Rovers and Plymouth Argyle – all the way away from home before slipping to narrow defeats in both games.
3 Injury woes IT is impossible to assess Colchester’s play-off prospects without taking into account the astonishing number of injuries they currently have.
They are missing a dozen first-team players at present and it looks unlikely that many of that group will return before the end of the season.
To lose the likes of leading scorer Kurtis Guthrie, key midfielder Craig Slater and in-form defender Frankie Kent over recent weeks has been particularly harsh.
And although players such as Tom Eastman and Doug Loft might return before the end of the campaign to boost the U’s, it is a scenario that could prove ultimately detrimental to their chances of going up in the long run.
How Colchester manage their loss of key players over the coming weeks will be crucial in determining whether or not they can maintain their challenge for glory.
4 The overall picture THE fact that Colchester are still within touching distance of a top-seven finish despite all of the injuries they have suffered owes much to their own team spirit, squad depth and John McGreal’s ability as a manager.
Inconsistency has seemingly been something of an issue for other teams in and around the play-off positions, which is why this season might well go down to the wire.
If Colchester can make it to the final two games either within the top seven or just outside, they will no doubt feel confident of their chances of making the play-offs.
By the time they play Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road on the penultimate weekend of the season their hosts’ sad fate might well have been confirmed, while their last opponents Yeovil Town look destined for a season of consolidation and will have little to play for on the final day other than pride.
THE RUN-IN CREWE ALEXANDRA (a) – Saturday (March 18) Last time out – Colchester proved too good for Crewe when the teams last met back in November, with goals from Kurtis Guthrie, Owen Garvan, Drey Wright and Brennan Dickenson giving them a comprehensive 4-0 win.
Footnote – The U’s have not lost at Gresty Road in their last three visits there; Crewe won 3-0 at Crawley Town on Tuesday night.
LUTON TOWN (h) – March 25 Last time out – Colchester produced one of their best away wins of the season at Kenilworth Road after Craig Slater’s late strike secured them a 1-0 victory there on Boxing Day.
Footnote – The Hatters’ last game at Colchester was in the Championship on Boxing Day 2006, with the U’s running out 4-1 winners.
NOTTS COUNTY (a) – April 1 Last time out – Goals from Kurtis Guthrie and a Richard Duffy own goal were enough to give Colchester a 2-1 win over the Magpies back in December.
Footnote – Kevin Nolan has led Notts County away from danger after taking over from John Sheridan as manager in January.
STEVENAGE (h) – April 8 Last time out – Colchester won a thrilling contest at Broadhall Way on the final day of 2016, with Brennan Dickenson, Kurtis Guthrie, Chris Porter and Tarique Fosu giving them a 4-2 victory.
Footnote – Stevenage inflicted Colchester’s biggest-ever defeat at the Community Stadium after winning 6-1 there in 2011.
DONCASTER ROVERS (h) – April 14 Last time out – A Tommy Rowe strike was enough to condemn Colchester to a 1-0 loss at the Keepmoat, back in October.
Footnote – league leaders Doncaster look on course for automatic promotion back to League One at the first time of asking; they are currently six points clear at the top.
MORECAMBE (a) – April 17 Last time out – Colchester played out a 2-2 draw with the Shrimps at the Community Stadium, with Chris Porter scoring twice.
Footnote – Colchester’s trip to the Globe Arena on Easter Monday will be their first-ever visit to Morecambe’s home stadium.
PLYMOUTH ARGYLE (h) – April 22 Last time out – Colchester’s looked on course to take a point at Home Park before a fortuitous break handed Ryan Donaldson the chance to secure Plymouth the points.
Footnote – Plymouth have won more games on the road than any other team in League Two so far this season but were held to a 1-1 draw at Wycombe Wanderers, on Tuesday night.
LEYTON ORIENT (a) – April 29 Last time out – Colchester were beaten 3-0 by Leyton Orient back in November in front of a crowd of 7,000, the U’s biggest home crowd of the season so far.
Footnote – Leyton Orient are currently bottom of League Two and seven points adrift of safety with nine games remaining after a miserable season.
YEOVIL TOWN (h) – May 6 Last time out – Two late goals condemned Colchester to defeat at Yeovil in November, a result that saw the U’s then embark on a nine-game unbeaten run.
Footnote – The last time Colchester played Yeovil on the final day of the season they secured a historic promotion to the Championship, in 2006.